The Care and Keeping of Stringed Instruments

Caring for Stringed InstrumentsMy violin has the scratches, dings, and dents of two lifetimes. I am at least the second owner (probably the third or fourth actually) and it has been through a lot. In 2004, it was fished out of my great uncle’s attic because I had outgrown my student model. The velvet on the inside of the case had bonded with the violin and the instrument looked as if it was covered in permanent

Since my violin was rehabilitated, it has been on two continents for concert tours, it played for Bob Dylan at one of his benefits to fund the arts in schools, and has played in the pit orchestras of 10+ musicals. I’ve been gifted with a great instrument, but it’s been through hard times too. It’s been in high humidity, low humidity, and everything in between. I’ve even played a concert in the rain under a leaky awning. So, I have to care for my instrument to keep it working properly.dust. However, my mom and I were able to scrub until it shone again. Granted, it still looks old and it lacks the mirror shine of many new instruments, but it plays like a dream.

Here are some tips of what I do to keep my instrument in perfect working order:

  • Don’t let others handle it. There were several instances when I was playing in orchestras when I watched my friends goofing off with each other’s instruments. It’s not a wise idea. When you’re a violinist, you know how to hold and care for a violin. A cellist or bassist is not going to have that same expertise. Someone with no musical experience is not going to know not to touch the bow hair or not to pick a violin up by the bridge.
  • Keep your instrument in a safe place. Never lean your violin against anything. I’ve also seen people who hang their violin from the scroll. It is damaging to the instrument and it is just asking for trouble. If it can be tipped over, then you are betting on good luck to keep it safe. Also, don’t leave your instrument on chairs because people tend to sit without looking. The best places for your instrument are in your hands, on a table, or in its case.
  • Never leave your instrument in a car! This is probably my biggest pet peeve. If you wouldn’t leave a baby in a car unattended, then you shouldn’t leave your instrument. They are both fragile. Car temperatures can reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit, which is enough to bubble or even melt the varnish. This is irreparable damage to an instrument. Also, cold temperatures can cause damage as well if the instrument freezes. If this happens, allow your instrument to thaw in its case to avoid seams opening and condensation forming. It is best just to take your instrument with you. I have gone grocery shopping with my violin in the cart before.
  • When storing your instrument for an extended period of time, it should be tuned down a half step to ensure that any changes in heat or humidity don’t damage the instrument and to ensure that the tension of the strings doesn’t cause damage over time.
  • Maintenance of your instrument is minimal, but it is important to develop good habits. After playing, always wipe the rosin and perspiration off the instrument. These can be corrosive when left on the instrument for too long. Always loosen the bow when you finish playing. The tension can warp the bow shaft or it can cause the horse hair to release, making the bow unusable. Strings should be replaced every 3-4 months, depending on how often you play.
  • Humidity is important for your violin. Because stringed instruments are wood, moisture must be consistent. Too much moisture and the wood will become oversaturated,Luma Comfort HCW10Bleading to warping and the seams opening up. Too little moisture and cracking can occur. However, it is always better to err on the side of too much humidity. Humidity levels for the room or case that the instrument is in should be kept between 35% and 55%. Use a humidifier if humidity drops below 35%. The Luma Comfort HCW10B humidifier can maintain the humidity in your practice room because it has a built-in hygrometer to control levels. If humidity levels are consistent, then the instrument can be left out of the case without damage. If you are outside the home and need a humidity boost, then put a wet paper towel in a perforated zip lock baggie. Put this in the case’s accessories compartment to humidify the environment.
  • Temperature should be consistent for your instrument. Your instrument should never be subjected to any conditions that would make you uncomfortable. Keeping the temperature consistent will prevent the wood from warping or cracking. Stringed instruments should also be kept out of direct sunlight. Sunlight can create unbalanced temperatures, but it can also bleach the varnish or wood of the instrument. Even your case should be kept out of direct sunlight because it would be the equivalent of storing your case in an oven.
  • Cleaning your instrument is a simple process. Wipe your entire instrument down with a soft, clean cotton flannel cloth or a lint-free soft cloth. Pay special attention to areas that rosin has built up because rosin can bond to the varnish creating a gray-black compound if left long enough on the instrument. If using violin polish, don’t apply polish to the bridge or the play area of the strings. PolishCaring for Stringed Instrumentsshould also be completely removed by the end of the process. Do not use any liquids other than polish designed for your instrument because it can harm the finish of your violin. If a more intensive cleaning is necessary, take it to a professional luthier so that a thorough job can be done.

Playing music is one of the biggest joys of my life and it is only possible as long as I take the time to care for my violin. Stringed instruments are costly to purchase in the first place, but repairs from negligence can cause that price to skyrocket. It is better to care for your instrument than having to fix problems that could have been easily avoided. Remember, violins can bring joy to several generations of players if properly maintained.

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